The Poetics of Atmosphere: Lorna Simpson’s Cloudscape and Other Works from the Collection

February 3–April 17, 2022

Davis

Artists have long been preoccupied with the sky; through depictions of the atmosphere, they elicit new understandings of corporeality and transcendence. This exhibition presents Lorna Simpson’s video Cloudscape (2004) in dialogue with selected works from the Colby Museum’s permanent collection that reference weightlessness and presence through meteorological imagery.

Simpson’s work examines how identity, specifically Black identity, is formed, perceived, and experienced. Cloudscape features a singular figure, the artist Terry Adkins, whistling as he is slowly engulfed in clouds. His seeming ability to fade—to appear ethereal, even to disappear—evokes the ways that race and gender inform a person’s capacity, or lack thereof, to determine their desired level of public visibility. Cloudscape makes Adkins an apparition, more spirit than body, while distorting the viewer’s temporal and spatial understanding of the world within the video.

The artworks accompanying Cloudscape allude to atmospheric conditions while also reflecting individualized articulations of weight. They challenge, and even circumvent, the embodied ways that we relate to our surroundings. For instance, Sally Egbert’s painting Perfumes (2010) makes visible, in bright, saturated colors, a substance that is usually atomized, and only encountered in the air or on the skin. Hanging from the ceiling, the limbs of Alexander Calder’s Untitled (1946) arc away from each other with an unseen logic, carefully counterbalanced to sway in response to passing breezes. Calder’s mobile challenges the notion that artworks are objects in stasis, creating instead a sense of receptivity between a sculpture and its viewer.

Lorna Simpson, Cloudscape (still), 2004. Video, sound. Museum purchase by the Colby Museum Board of Governors in support of the New Media Arts Consortium, a collaboration of the art museums at Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, and Skidmore College. Accession Number: 2019.038

About Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson first became well known in the mid-1980s for her large-scale photograph-and-text works. The unidentified figures they feature probe the ways in which race and gender shape our relationships and experiences in the contemporary United States. The works also question the reliability of memory, and how individual, historical, and cultural memory is informed by conceptions of identity and representation.

Simpson holds a bachelor of fine arts in photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and a master of fine arts from the University of California, San Diego. Her works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and others. She was awarded the J. Paul Getty Medal in 2019.

Banner Image: Lorna Simpson, Cloudscape (still detail), 2004. Single-channel video installation, black and white, sound, looped. Duration: 7 min. Ed. of 3 + 1 AP. © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Museum purchase by the Colby Museum Board of Governors in support of the New Media Arts Consortium, a collaboration of the art museums at Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, and Skidmore College. Accession Number: 2019.038. Right: Lorna Simpson © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: James Wang.